Love and contentment have a lot of similarities.
Both are often misunderstood in our culture, even among followers of Jesus. If we listen to the loudest voices in our culture, we hear lots of teaching about both love and contentment. Some of the strongest messages we receive are misconceptions of both. This misdirection causes us to look for both in misguided ways or for improper motives
We have been taught that both love and contentment are things that just happen to us. We fall in love and by wandering through life we may stumble upon contentment. We are told that both love and contentment are simply emotional responses. If things aren’t going well, we have love/contentment, and when things aren’t – we don’t. Both love and contentment are seen as almost biological responses we have whether we like it or not, whether we want to or not, or even whether we notice or not. If we believe one merely ‘falls in love’ (or out of it) then what can we do? You can’t try to fall, or even stop yourself most of the time – so just wait for it to happen. In the same way, we are told we can be content or not – but it’s what happens to us. So we simply expect these things to ebb and flow, and perhaps if we’re lucky they’ll be present more than they’re absent.
If we believe these misconceptions about contentment (and love) we’re on the wrong path right from the beginning. If we feel the absence of contentment (or love) is due to our current situation then we can easily excuse our lack of them.
When God tells us to “love our enemies” it should be rather self-evident he is not talking about the kind of ‘love’ that naturally springs out of our emotional experience. Most of us wouldn’t look at someone who has murdered our child, or bombed our city, or lied to get us fired, or yelled at our child, or cut us off on the freeway — and have an outpouring of love as a knee-jerk reflex. That’s not to say it can’t happen… or it shouldn’t. But most of the time… it doesn’t. It isn’t a natural response.
In one of the most cited passages about contentment in the Bible, Paul says “I have learned to be content.” It is obvious you don’t need to learn things that come naturally. I didn’t need to learn to lose my temper, I was never taught to think of myself before others, and no one ever instructed me to want to hide my faults. Unfortunately, these things have come all too easily and naturally, no learning required. Paul however, states that his contentment has been learned. He was taught this skill, this ability from someone, and Paul is clear the teacher was the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the Bible, we learn how virtues are contrary to our sinful nature (and we have our own personal experience to vouch for that as well). Denying ourselves for the sake of others, admitting our mistakes, or even faith itself are not things that come naturally – we have to learn them. We need to be taught by the Holy Spirit. We need to be given them.
We need to put contentment in this category. As a virtue, like love, it will not just happen. We don’t fall into contentment any more than we fall into true love. If we can get that straight we have some hope of getting true contentment (and love) in our lives.
Do you agree or not with the following statements:
I can fall in love
I can fall out of love
I can’t be content the way my life is right now
I need to try harder to be loving
I can attain contentment if I get the right situation
I think some people are just unloveable
I’m not sure I’m loveable
I am just not naturally a content person
Now – read Philippians 4: 10-14 and Matthew 5: 43-48
Reflect on your conception of contentment (and love) – and how they are similar and different from these passages.
God of perfect love
Father of complete contentment,
you ask us to find contentment in a painful, hurting, distressed world
you ask us to love those who hurt, betray, and are indifferent to us.
We admit we lack the strength, resolve, and goodness to to this on our own.
Give us your Holy Spirit in greater measure so that we can
Teach us to be content in every situation.
Teach us to love our enemy.
This seems impossible – and for us it is.
But with you,
nothing is impossible.